By Yari Nieves-Rivera, Editor Emeritus
For one third of my life, the little city of Comerío, hugged by the mountains that make up Puerto Rico’s dorsal spine, was the extent of my entire world. There were towns that bordered, like planets that can barely be reached by our best scientists, but they never mattered to me. The twenty-thousand people that lived there were the only people that mattered to me. My family were the most important. I was proud to be a Nieves, a Rivera, as people in my town always recognized the names. There were a lot of us, of course, but we were always a part of the family.
Today, as of September 21st, 2017, I know nothing of the 20,000 people that inhabit my little world.
Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico as a High Category 4 storm, only two miles away from being a Category 5. For reference, that is equivalent to having a F5 tornado covering the entire island for six to eight hours, mixed with rainfall, thunderstorms and actual tornadoes. The last time a hurricane of this magnitude hit the island nation was in 1928, when my great-grandmother was eighteen years old and about to start her own family. My grandfather was only months away from being born. The San Felipe II Hurricane (known in the United States as Okeechobee), is the only Category 5 hurricane to have ever hit the island, and it displaced 500,000 of its citizens, and killed 300. This storm followed the same trajectory as Maria, and caused almost an equal amount of devastation to the island.
At this moment, not much is known about the center of the island. With communication lines lost at the beginning of the storm, all we know is that damage is extensive. They have already declared that power on the island will not be restored for 4-6 months (at the most, a year). As I’m writing this, many Puerto Ricans outside of the island are desperately trying to communicate with their family members through Zello, an online walkie-talkie. There, they have been connecting and relaying information with each other to both comfort and inform those who have no way of speaking to their loved ones. Only two death has been reported on the entire island thus far in the city of Bayamon, but nobody knows what to expect. All that is known is that Puerto Rico had already been suffering from poor infrastructure and Hurricane Irma, and the damage caused could be catastrophic.
Comerío, close to the heart of the island, was founded in 1826 and was originally known as Sabana del Palmar. The name was later changed to honor the local Cacique (Taino Chief), who bears the same name. The history of my little city is little known and little cared for, but it holds the legacy of thousands of people who passed and left their mark. It was most well-known for its agriculture, and it was once called the city of tobacco. My mom, only thirty-seven years old, still remembers sitting below my grandmother’s work tables in the town’s factory as her mother sewed together the leaves of the crop.